Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blind Consumers and Brother Bartimaeus

This self-authored post originally appeared at ThinkChristian.net

Historically, Apple has had an incredibly effective advertising campaign and the company’s latest commercial is no exception. The new ad showcases the iPad's new high-resolution retina display and, as per usual, Apple isn't just selling you their product. They’re selling you an experience. More specifically, in this ad they’re selling consumers a better experience with "the things you care about."

The ad is simultaneously brilliant and aggravating. On the surface it would seem that Apple just wants us to enjoy the things we care about. But Apple's slight of hand convinces us that we need the iPad to enjoy the things we care about. It is not "simply you and the things you care about." It is you and the iPad and the things you care about.

Apple portrays itself as innocent and caring. The ad is clean and white, with a bunch of colorful images of nature and human beings (even a subliminal message that the iPad will help you read to your children!). These are the things you care about and we want to help you enjoy them, implies the serene voiceover. But the blatant hypocrisy is that Apple's sole objective is to get between you and the things you care about. The screen is so clear that you won't notice that there’s an iPad between you and the things you care about.

And that’s really why I love/hate this commercial. I hate it because it skillfully portrays the iPad as something and nothing at the same time. It is an iPad, (something) but it easily dissolves into the fabric of our lives and becomes unseen (nothing). Like many of the things that get between you and the things you care about, the iPad is designed to become incognito.

Apple understands that life is really all about the things we care about. As a Christian, my relationship with the Triune God is at the top of the list. But it’s not the obvious things that get between me and God; it’s the things that remain unseen, dictating my behavior without me knowing. It’s those “high-resolution” habits that are so clear that we continually look (and live) through them without even knowing they’re there.

Over the past few years I’ve learned that just about anything can get in the way of my relationship with God and the people I care about. My reading habits, my ministry or even my theology itself can get between me and God. It’s always those things that have become incognito. They are something, as they influence us and get in the way of the things we care about. And they are nothing, as they remain unseen, hiding in our blind spots.

I wonder if that’s why the Gospels display Jesus healing so many people who are blind. Perhaps it’s not only to illustrate Jesus’ power in the Spirit and the presence of the reign of God, but to teach us to cry out, like blind Bartimaeus, “I want to see!” so that we too can rise and follow Him on the way.

Thomas Merton once wrote that our role as consumers depends on our belief in the product’s promises. I would agree. But I might add that our role as consumers depends on our passivity to let products dissolve into the fabric of our lives and become both something and nothing. Our role as disciples of Christ, however, depends on the exact opposite: to actively confess the things that get between us and God, and ask to receive our sight. Only then can it truly be “you and the things you care about.”


  1. There are some great turns of phrase in this essay, Josh. For example: "Like many of the things that get between you and the things you care about, the iPad is designed to become incognito." I am curious about your phrase: even our theology can get between us and our relationship with God. The first thing that came to mind are our incognito theologies - those that are embedded, unexamined (by us), and therefore, have pernicious potential that remains unnoticed. But then I thought of Calvinist, which you know I have nearly little regard for at all. And the list of examined theologies that I have rejected might also fall under the umbrella of those that get in the way. Which do you mean? Both? Or do you have something in mind that I am missing? For me, the exploration of theology continually involved a kind of prayer to God that God realize that I am not rejecting God, but rejecting anything I have been taught about God that now seems (a weak term) untrue. I resonate with Brian McLaren’s prayer: “I am here; you are here; we are here together. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we together?”

  2. Thanks, Brescia. As far as theology goes, I am indeed speaking of those blind spots or embedded theologies that we do not know are there.

    However, I am also talking about those theologies that we think are "right." I am guilty of thinking I have discovered the all-encompassing theological paradigm for the universe... only to realize that it has actually squelched the Spirit of God.

    Thus, I'm with you. I'm continually reforming, confessing, and trying to relinquish my desire to control God or be God.